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Feeling Nothing At All

By Dan Savage · September 7th, 2005 · Savage Love
How can I tell if I'm asexual? Is it a legitimate orientation or am I just a seething ball of neuroses? Sex does nothing for me. I can't orgasm (even when I attempt masturbation), so my husband doesn't go there. That's fine by me. I hate my people-parts; I find them utterly icky. At any rate, I apparently perform good fellatio, so the no-intercourse thing isn't such an issue. My marriage seems fine; we laugh and share the same lefty values and cuddle on the couch. When he has needs he fondles my breasts and nuzzles me; this indicates "go down on me now, please." So I do. Yet I feel nothing.

Is that normal? I'm well-adjusted otherwise, a productive member of society and all that. I am cheerful, good-humored and pretty, too. Are some people simply not wired to be into sex? I'm certainly into love. I feel very passionate about my husband and my friends, but it's completely cerebral. If it's of any use, I'm 31 and I dislike pooping, too.

-- Insert Name Here

After the results of a study on asexuality were published in the Journal of Sex Research in August 2004, a new sexual minority group began taking its turn up on the wicked stage. Everyone from the BBC to Salon to the New Scientist weighed in on the 1 percent of the population that, according to UK researchers, "had never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." The go-to guy for quotes and insights into asexuality was David Jay, a 23-year-old asexual from St. Louis and the founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (www.asexuality.org).

We'll get to Jay's insights into your case in a second, INH, but first I have to say that asexuality, as I understand it, is an indifference to sex. Reading your letter, INH, I didn't sense indifference, just disgust -- with people-parts, with pooping, with blowjobs. There's asexuality and then there's being repulsed by sex, also known as "sexual aversion disorder," and that's a horse-fucker of a different color.

For a second opinion, we turn now to David Jay:

"Show me anyone, sexual or asexual, who isn't in some way fucked up and I'll gag," says Jay. "The question she should be asking herself is not, 'Am I fucked up?' but, 'Do I need sex to be happy?' It doesn't sound like she does, but the question is probably worth exploring with a best friend and a six-pack. If she concludes that she needs sex in her life, then there's an industry that will be more than happy to serve her."

But if you conclude that sex just isn't for you, Jay would advise you to take stock of your situation from a nonsexual standpoint. "You've got what sounds like a great husband who you love and great friends. Instead of focusing your energy on worrying about sex (which up to now has been nothing but boring), focus on further exploring the things that you actually find pleasurable."

And your husband's needs?

"I wouldn't be that worried about your husband," Jay says. "If he had some overwhelming need to have more sex he probably would have mentioned it by now."

Hmm, I respectfully dissent. While it's possible that your husband is content with the odd perfunctory blowjob, it's more likely that he doesn't press the matter because he loves you. But he probably misses women's people-parts, INH, and one day the opportunity to fuck the shit out of another woman's people-parts is going to present itself and he'll seize it. And this, I think, will be the ultimate test of your asexual cred. If you don't think sex is important, then it shouldn't matter to you if your husband does this hugely unimportant thing with someone else every once in a while.

Hi. I'm a 16-year-old girl whose 20-year-old brother has a foot fetish. Normally, this wouldn't bother me. However, he comes into my room at 2 in the morning and slips his hands under the covers to touch my feet. The other night I woke up and he was licking my foot. Sometimes he'll rub his penis between my toes. I love my brother, but this makes me uncomfortable. He comes in almost every night, and when he wakes me up, I can't get back to sleep for at least an hour. I'm so tired in the morning, and my mom blames me saying I stay up too late.

What should I do? I've tried confronting my brother (sometimes when he wakes me up I'll tell him to get out of my room). He has to be really dense to think I don't know. I don't want to tell my mom or dad because I don't want him to get in trouble. Plus it's embarrassing for the both of us.

-- She Who Needs Sleep

Stop worrying about protecting your brother and start worrying about protecting yourself. He's sexually assaulting you, SWNS, and he's using your fear of embarrassment to keep you silent! You're being manipulated and abused. Get angry! Tell your parents what's going on, buy a lock for your door and, if your brother somehow manages to get into your room despite the lock, scream your fucking head off.

Your brother needs help -- not because he's a foot fetishist; there's nothing wrong with that. He needs help because he's obviously developed -- through absolutely no fault of yours -- a thing for abusing, manipulating, and terrorizing women. Your continued silence in the face of this abuse isn't helping you or your brother but making it more likely that he will attempt this with other women one day.

If your brother doesn't get help now he's either going to wind up in jail or dead on the bedroom floor of a woman who sleeps with a gun under her pillow.

Kudos to you for your love of the Dresden Dolls. But check them out live if you get the chance! There's nothing more enjoyable than hearing the lyrics in "Coin-Operated Boy" change from "I can even take him in the bath" to "I can even fuck him in the ass" during the live show. Brilliant!

-- Corey

Thanks for the heads up, Corey, but I discovered that the Dresden Dolls change "I can even take him in the bath" to "I can even fuck him in the ass" during their live shows all on my own. I love them so much I bought their live CD, which I took home and listened to while my 7-year-old son was in the room. This resulted in me having to explain to him what "fuck him in the ass" meant 18 years earlier than I had planned. (Where's Tipper Gore when you need her?) Still, I love the Dresden Dolls, and anyone who wants to see the Dresden Dolls change that lyric live should check out their Web site (www.dresdendolls.com) for their upcoming tour dates in the U.S. and Canada.

I am a big fan. You often nail it with politics and advice, but I disagree with you answer to Committed To Quitting. First, there are a number of regular guys who post on the Smoke Signals Web site (www.smokesigs.com) who are married and faithful to nonsmoking women. For many, watching attractive women who smoke is just a voyeuristic delight and nothing more. So CTQ's relationship is not necessarily doomed.

Second, while smoking is unhealthy, so are a lot of other things, like wars, driving too fast, drinking booze, getting a tan, eating yummy food or riding a bicycle in the suburbs. Once you and the antismoking zealots have made the world a better place by reducing the smoking population to the point that smokers are a vulnerable minority, tobacco will be criminalized like hemp. You always thought it would go the other way, didn't you? Use your political sense.

Third, your advice is anything but GGG. There are different strategies CTQ could try if she were committed to her guy and wanted to have her cake and eat it too. Smoking fetishists are a particular bunch. Most like certain brands of cigarettes, some like only cigar women and some like both. It's conceivable that she could smoke cigars, cloves or a "non-additive brand" rather than her preferred brand. This could limit the potential for a relapse to being a regular smoker and provide some "controlled enjoyment" of tobacco.

Fourth, your characterization of smoking as vile and disgusting is a half-truth. Smoking has enjoyed mass popularity since World War I. It was once the province of Prussian artisans who defied bans on public smoking in the 1840s and Virginia Slims flappers in the 1920s and glamorous movie stars in the 1940s and 1950s.

Finally, your intolerant and puritanical tone in this letter is very uncharacteristic of you. It must be Seattle or something.

-- James2

Perhaps I was too quick to urge CTQ to dump her smoking fetishist boyfriend. In the interest of full disclosure, I should cop to my bias: I find smoking revolting. It's always been a deal-breaker for me, romantically speaking; it's easier for me to picture myself making out with a woman than with a dude who smokes. My towering aversion to the sight and stench of cigarettes no doubt prevented me from considering other accommodations CTQ could make, GGG moves that would allow to have her health and the love of her smoking-fetishist boyfriend too.

Still, James2, I have to take exception to your cavalier attitude toward the health risks of smoking. Yes, we're all going to die of something. But even if we set aside death, the other health impacts of smoking should be enough to inspire any sane person to quit. Smokers are likelier to be impotent; their faces are likelier to be covered in ghastly wrinkles; women who smoke and take birth control pills are likelier to have heart attacks; smokers' teeth are likelier to fall out; smokers have poor circulation; smokers are likelier to have ulcers, heart disease, limited senses of taste and smell, etc. All of these things diminish quality of life for smokers even if they live long enough to die of something else. And then there's the damage smokers do to the health of the nonsmokers in their lives. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke.

And, I'm sorry, but the fact that smoking once enjoyed mass popularity -- and that glamorous movie stars in the '40s smoked and rebel Prussians smoked and on and on -- can't be held up as proof that smoking isn't disgusting. Something can be disgusting and enjoy mass popularity, James2. Take, say, female genital mutilation. It's very popular in the parts of the world where it's practiced, but it's still vile and wrong.

Finally, I'm against criminalizing tobacco in private. People should be free to pollute themselves in their homes, if they so choose, but smokers do not have the right to make nonsmokers (including their children) share in their toxic behavior in public spaces.

Hi, Dan. As a guy with a smoking fetish, I'd like to add my existential $.02. First, CTQ, Dan is absolutely right that smoking is risky. No doubt about that. However, not everyone finds it quite as disgusting as he does. You indicated that you "really enjoyed" indulging your boyfriend's kink, after all, so it doesn't sound like a completely one-sided thing.

The other part of it is that even though smoking has well-documented health hazards, nonsmokers die all the time. The fact that you smoked for five, 10 or 15 years might not matter a whole lot when you get hit by that bus next week. Or, OK, so you die of cancer before you're 60. At least you won't have to worry about incontinence or Alzheimer's. Whenever people say, "I don't smoke because I don't want to die of cancer," I follow up with, "What would you like to die of?"

But back to your specific situation: You seem to think that because you're an addict it's got to be all or nothing, that there's no way you could only smoke on occasion. But have you tried? Perhaps you and your boyfriend can both agree that the only time either of you will smoke is during sex? It will take some willpower (for you and him), but either you'll end up smoking a lot less or having sex a lot more! Sounds like a win-win to me.

-- Sensible Smoking Fetishist

Yes, nonsmokers die all the time. But at least we're likelier to be able to get it up until we die and die with all our non-stained teeth still in our heads, smooth skin on our faces, guts free of ulcers, our non-asthmatic children at our bedsides, etc.

To Committed To Quitting: Would the bubble-gum fake cigarettes satisfy your partner's fetish? These are cigarette-shaped sticks of bubble gum, wrapped in paper to look like a cigarette and filled with powdered sugar that you can blow outwards like smoke. They're available at many candy stores and are probably cheaper than real cigarettes, too.

-- Candy Man

Do they still make candy cigarettes? If they do, ban them. While I don't support the prohibition of tobacco, anything that encourages little children to take up smoking should be banned.

I'm rather aghast at your advice to CTQ, Dan. Advising her to dump her smoking-fetishist boyfriend completely sidestepped her first request: "...a way to replace his need for smoking with something that won't kill [her]." Given the usual level of thought and research evident in your column, all I can assume is that you let your own hatred of smoking interfere with your due diligence. No doubt, she should quit smoking and have his full love and support if that's her desire. But the fact is nicotine-free cigarettes are available under the Qwest brand.

If the mere taste of tobacco proves too enticing, there are a number of varieties of herbal cigarettes available at any hippie store. They're kinda gross, but a lot less gross than some of the things we do in an effort to be GGG. You kinda jumped the "DTMFA" gun there, don't you think?

-- Careful Advice Never Condemns Excusable Requests

About the only things that smell worse than regular cigarettes are clove or herbal cigarettes. Almost worse than the stench they give off is the smug look that is always -- always! -- plastered on the face of an asshole smoking a clove or herbal cigarette in public.

Can't CTQ try fake cigarettes? Good fake cigarettes are just that -- damn good; they blow smoke, they light up. Unless CTQ's fetishist boyfriend is particularly turned on by the cigarette smell, perhaps these fakes can help save the relationship: www.dixiesgifts.com/fake_cigarettes.html.

-- Used These Often In Middle School Plays

Thanks for sharing, UTOIMSP.

Your response to CTQ seemed to leave no possibility that a man can live without his fetish. Must fetishes always dominate a person's life? Is there no situation in which a person decides his fetish is incompatible with his love life? Aren't there plenty of people out there with fetishes who also enjoy non-fetish sex? Can't those people commit to monogamy (augmented by fetish porn, daydreaming, etc.)?

Many people fantasize about things that would jeopardize their relationships -- so they keep them as fantasies. I'm not suggesting that realizing our fantasies is bad or that we should all repress our fetishes, simply that there's more to life and that, for many people, it's possible to have fulfilling, loving and sexually gratifying fetish-free relationships. Am I totally naive?

-- Committed To Optimism

Yes you are, CTO. You don't say so, but I think it's safe to say you don't have a fetish. It's not only possible for someone to have a "fulfilling, loving and sexually gratifying fetish-free relationship," it's easy. But if you had a fetish, you would despair at the prospect of never having your fetish indulged. People with fetishes can and do enjoy non-fetish sex all the time; most fetishists only indulge occasionally, their fetish being something they enjoy in addition to "normal" sex, not in place of it. But people with fetishes are happier, more content, more loving and less likely to cheat if their sexual needs are being met, not denied.

Dan Savage's new book, "The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family," goes on sale Sept. 22.


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